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Flying high last winter. Shot back down this fall.

That’s the situation facing Seoul American’s 16th-year wrestling coach Julian Harden.

Nine months after capturing a school-first sweep of the Far East tournament dual meet and individual freestyle team titles, the Falcons find themselves starting over.

“Definitely a rebuilding year,” Harden said.

Owner of three Far East tournament titles since 2005 and winner of the DODDS-Korea wrestling league every year of his tenure, Harden confronts as daunting a retooling task as he’s faced over that time.

Only one defending gold medalist, junior 180-pounder Justin Stokes, returns. Just two others who placed in the top six of their weight groups in the 2007 Far East tournament are back, juniors Demetrius Johnson (158 pounds) and Mark Lieberg (heavyweight).

It wasn’t just graduations — Harden lost seven seniors, including 115-pound gold medalist James Nutter — but an unexpected mass exodus of underclassmen on whom Harden was counting to bolster the ranks.

Only Nick Castillo, a junior from Wisconsin, transferred in, and he’ll need time to make the transition from college folkstyle to international freestyle, used in the Pacific.

“I have some bodies, but they’re young,” Harden said.

While his Falcons may be in more dire straits than they have been in some time, Harden insists he is used to rebuilding, and feels that while his team may take some lumps this season, the team does show promise.

“We’ve been here before. You have to build from within,” Harden said. “I like what we have. Hopefully, they’ll be here a while. I like our chances for the future. We have the potential.”

The Falcons kicked off the 2007-08 DODDS-Korea season at home on Saturday with the first of seven scheduled tri-meets with Osan American and Daegu American.

Guam High, under new coach Brandon Miller, will attempt to make it three straight island championships. He has established a goal, he says, of a school-record four gold medalists in the 2008 Far East tournament, this year scheduled at Camp Foster, Okinawa.

The DODDS-Japan season began Saturday with a five-team tournament at Robert D. Edgren. And 2006 Far East team champion Kadena hosts 20-time Far East titlist Kubasaki in the first of three Okinawa Activities Council dual meets on Thursday.

In the run-up to Far East, schools in Japan and Okinawa plan to see a lot of one another.

The Nile C. Kinnick Invitational “Beast” tournament, shelved last year due to scheduling problems, returns to the docket on Jan. 12 as a dual-meet event, Kinnick coach and meet organizer Nico Hindie said.

“We’re excited to get it back,” Hindie said, calling “Beast” an important tuneup for Far East. Not holding it last year “hurt a lot of teams who were trying to gauge themselves. It was disappointing.”

Three weeks later, Okinawa will try its hand at hosting an in-season invitational, the first “Rumble On The Rock,” scheduled for Feb. 1-2 at Kubasaki High School on Camp Foster.

“Beast” and “Rumble” will welcome Tokyo’s international school powers, American School In Japan, Christian Academy In Japan and St. Mary’s International, which don’t wrestle in the DODDS-only Far East.

“The more matches we get, the better preparation we get for Far East,” said Kubasaki coach Terry Chumley, who brings back 108-pound gold medalist Scott Wood. “And the chance to wrestle the top international schools is a wonderful opportunity.”

“Beast” and “Rumble” will sandwich the 2nd Okinawa-American Friendship Tournament slated for Jan. 19-20 at Kadena High School, in which Kubasaki and Kadena will take on as many as four Japanese teams.

Kubasaki and Kadena will wrestle just three dual meets, instead of their customary four, but “that’s a worthy tradeoff” for the chance to wrestle three in-season tournaments, Kadena coach Steve Schrock said.

“Every week, there’ll be something going on,” said Schrock, whose Panthers return two defending Far East gold medalists, Chris Hoshaw and Jake Bloom. “It keeps you working. It keeps you motivated.”

“It’s exciting,” Hindie added. “It’s nice to see different competition and measure where you are. And the more wrestling you get, the better.”

Harden said his Falcons will decline such opportunities at least for this season, until his young charges gain more experience. Instead, Kinnick, Osan and Daegu will visit Korean schools, and will welcome E.J. King of Japan to a Dec. 8 meet at Daegu American School.

“It would be us getting waxed” in the “Beast” and “Rumble” events, Harden said. “Not having any seasoned wrestlers to go there, it wouldn’t matter. Once we get some experience, that’s when we can look at traveling.”

Significant datesJan. 12—Nile C. Kinnick Invitational “Beast of the Far East” dual-meet tournament, Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

Jan. 19—Second Okinawa-American Friendship Meet, Kadena High School, Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

Feb. 1-2—First Okinawa “Rumble On The Rock” tournament, Kubasaki High School, Camp Foster, Okinawa.

Feb. 13-16—DODDS-Pacific Far East High School Tournament, individual freestyle and dual-meet, Foster Field House, Foster Athletics Complex, Camp Foster, Okinawa.

Team capsulesSouth Korea

Seoul American FalconsYongsan Garrison, South Korea2007 Far East tournament finish—Defending individual freestyle (62 points), dual-meet champion.Coach—Julian Harden, 16th season.Wrestlers to watch—Justin Stokes, Jr., 180, gold medal at 180 in Far East; Demetrius Johnson, Jr., 158, fourth at 135 in Far East; Mark Lieberg, heavyweight, sixth at heavyweight in Far East; Jesse Smith, Sr., 168; Nick Castillo, Jr., 141.Outlook—Rebuilding. Senior-laden 2006-07 team beset by graduations and transfers; just four return from last year.

Osan American CougarsOsan Air Base, South Korea2007 Far East tournament finish—Eighth in individual freestyle (19 points).Coach—David Hemmer, first season.Wrestlers to watch—Emily Albonetti, Sr., 101; Joey Brandt, Sr., 135; Reuben Hemmer, Sr., 141, third in Heidelberg sectional in Germany last year; Jesse Crockett, Sr., 215.Outlook—Rebuilding. Team headlined by school-first gold medalist and Outstanding Wrestler Carlos Albaladejo has precious little experience and Hemmer will be new to Far East freestyle. Building from scratch.

Daegu American Warriors Camp George, South Korea2007 Far East tournament finish—Tied for 10th in individual freestyle (5 points).Coach—Bill Riggs, second season.Wrestlers to watch—Nicko Kim, 129, fourth at 122 in Far East; Greg Jones, 148, fifth at 141 last year; Clinton Kim, 168; Tommy Thompson, 158 or 168.Outlook—Rebuilding. The numbers improve; Riggs had 29 wrestlers try out and is hopeful of bringing a school-record 10 to Far East. Still a way to go, though.

Okinawa

Kadena PanthersKadena Air Base, Okinawa2007 Far East tournament finish—Third in individual freestyle (56 points), dual-meet runner-up.Coach—Steve Schrock, 10th season.Wrestlers to watch—Aaron Avila, So., 108, fifth at 108 in Far East; Drake Robertson, Jr., 122, third at 115 in Far East; Chris Hoshaw, Sr., 129-135, gold medal at 122 in Far East; Harry Bloom, So., 141, 135-pound runner-up in Far East; Jacob Bloom, Sr., 148, two-time Far East gold medalist; Cody Cash, 158, 158-pound runner-up in Far East; Josh Carpenter, Sr., 168, sixth at 168 in Far East; Tyler Broome, So., 180; Karsten Hendrickson, Sr., 215; Jon Shoults, Sr., heavyweight.Outlook—Contending. May be Schrock’s deepest team yet: three-deep at most weight classes, with two returning gold medalists and one runner-up. Season could be littered with wrestle-offs to see who’ll represent the black and gold week-to-week.

Kubasaki DragonsCamp Foster, Okinawa2007 Far East tournament finish—Second in individual freestyle (58 points), dual-meet bronze.Coach—Terry Chumley, sixth season.Wrestlers to watch—Scott Wood, Jr., 115, gold medal at 108 in Far East; Josh Bales, So., 129, fourth at 122 in Far East; Bucky Shaw, Sr., heavyweight, twice fourth place at heavyweight in Far East; Chris Paul, Jr., 115; C.J. Tapang, Sr., 135-141; Jake “Cowboy” Haynes, Jr., 168, fourth at 158 in Far East; James McDowell, Jr., 135; Lawrence McClain, Sr., 215; Matt Hall, Jr., 180.Outlook—Contending. Any program with 20 Far East tournament titles to its credit considers itself contending, though this lot is not in the same class as the 2005 Far East champion team.

Guam

Guam High PanthersNimitz Hill, Guam2007 Far East tournament finish—Fourth in individual freestyle (44 points); sixth in dual meet.Coach—Brandon Miller, first season.Wrestlers to watch-Zach Nabors, Sr., 180, sixth at 168 in Far East; Robert Lopez, Sr., 129, second at 115 in Far East; Rey Tenorio, Sr., 135-141, third at 129 in Far East; Timothy Hernandez, Sr.; Anthony Barfield, Sr.; Ryan Ford, Sr.; Michael Moser, So.; Darren Perez, Fr.Outlook—Contending. Coming off two straight Guam championships and school-record Far East finishes a year ago, Miller has set a goal of four Far East gold medals, which would be another school first.

Japan

Yokota PanthersYokota Air Base, Japan2007 Far East tournament finish—Seventh in individual freestyle (29 points), fourth in dual meet.Coach—Brian Kitts, fourth season.Wrestlers to watch—Mark “Shifty” Meade, Jr., 108, third at 101 in Far East; Chris Cournoyer, Jr., 115, sixth at 108 in Far East; Neil Lapurga, Sr., 122, sixth at 115 in Far East; Robert Rodell, Sr., 135; Kenny McInnis, Sr., 148, sixth at 141 in Far East; Tony Presnell, Jr., 158, fifth at 148 in Far East.Outlook—Rebuilding/reloading. Panthers were hit hard by unexpected PCS and a broken wrist that will sideline Andrew Conkling for the season. Still a strong core of returnees with years of experience; all will depend on how quickly the youngsters can be brought up to speed.

Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan2007 Far East tournament finish—Sixth in individual freestyle (36 points).Coach—Nicolas Hindie, first season.Wrestlers to watch—Philip Bayani, Jr., 135; Diego Carlin, Jr., 135; Sean Carpenter, Sr., 148.Outlook—Rebuilding. Like Yokota, Red Devils hit hard by unexpected departures. Hindie becomes third head coach in three seasons, but assisted by 2004 gold medalist Go Yamada.

Zama American TrojansCamp Zama/Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan2007 Far East tournament finish—Tied for 10th in individual freestyle (5 points).Coach—George Nowells, second season.Wrestlers to watch—Daniel Polaski, Sr., 168-180; Josh Johnson, Sr., 158; Michael Palomino, Jr., 135, sixth at 122 in Far East; Miguel Rodriguez, Sr., 135; Andrew Doxey, So., 158; T.J. Sloan, Sr., 135, fifth at 129 in Far East.Outlook—Reloading. Nowells brings back some experienced athletes; could have used the return of Adam Godfrey, an unexpected PCS last spring. Polaski, Johnson and others stand to contend for gold.

Robert D. Edgren EaglesMisawa Air Base, Japan2007 Far East tournament finish—Fifth in individual freestyle (40 points), fifth in dual-meet.Coach—Justin Edmonds, fourth season.Wrestlers to watch—Andrew Blankenship, Sr., 180, 2006 Far East gold medalist, fourth at 180 last year; Kenneth Radford, 158, sixth at 148 in Far East; Kevin Radford, 168, third at 158 in Far East; Tony Delaine, 135, fifth at 135 in Far East; Darrel Morris, 148, third at 141 in Far East; Matt Ebarheart, 122, fifth at 101 in Far East; Matt Buck, 122, fourth at 108 in Far East.Outlook—Reloading/contending. Eagles continue to gradually climb the ladder, and enjoyed the best team finishes in school history last year. Losing 2006 Far East gold medalist and 2007 runner-up Kevin McDonald (December PCS) will hurt. Seven returning wrestlers who placed in the top six will help.

E.J. King CobrasSasebo Naval Base, Japan2007 Far East tournament finish—Ninth in individual freestyle (10 points).Coach—Thomas Wright, fourth season.Wrestlers to watch—David Heitstuman, Sr., gold medal at 135 in Far East, 2006 129-pound runner-up; Ben Austin, Jr., 108; Andrew Hoffman, Fr., 168; Chris Luker, Jr., 215.Outlook—Rebuilding, with one wrestler in particular contending – Heitstuman, who stands to become the first repeat gold medalist in school history.

Migrated
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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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